Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 8;   February 24, 2016: Allocating Airtime: I

Allocating Airtime: I

by

The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
Donald Trump, a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2016

Donald Trump, as a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States in 2016. Mr. Trump befuddled much of the political establishment with his ability to dominate the political conversation of both the nation and the Republican Party. He displayed a number of the attributes of the Outspoken outlined in this article. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA.

We notice it most clearly in brainstorming, but it can happen in any meeting. Some people dominate the conversation (I'll call them Outspoken), while others seem unable to get a chance to speak (I'll call them Softspoken). When the Softspoken do get a chance to speak, an Outspoken often interrupts, preventing the Softspoken from finishing a thought. Eventually, the Softspoken give up trying, if they don't actually leave the room. Or, in virtual meetings, they sign off or begin indulging in their favorite digital pastimes.

Understanding the experiences of all involved helps us allocate airtime more fairly. Let's begin by exploring the inner experience of the Outspoken.

Excited, capable, and articulate
Some of the Outspoken are excited and passionate about the discussion. If they're also knowledgeable and articulate, they might feel an overwhelming desire to contribute. They're so fully involved that they're unaware that they're taking more than their fair share of the airtime.
Seeking attention
To gain attention, some of the Outspoken exploit their advantages. Motivations differ. Some want to make a case for a particular mission that they hope the group will adopt. Some hope to enhance their own political stature, possibly to gain promotion or influence. Others seek to dominate solely for the thrill of domination.
Believing no one has anything to say
When a pause in the conversation occurs, or even before a pause develops, the Outspoken are more likely to believe that no one has anything to say. They conclude that it's permissible to contribute whatever might be in their minds.
Rude or careless of the rights of others
Some of the Outspoken recognize that their own behavior is rude, but they're either careless of the rights of others, or they feel that the discussion is so important and urgent that civility and politeness must be temporarily suspended.
Strategically assertive
Someone When someone repeatedly dominates
meetings, understanding the
experiences of all involved helps
us allocate airtime more fairly
who wants to limit opportunities for others to express points of view contrary to their own might steer the conversation in what they regard as a safe direction. They speak at length, and interrupt anyone who might express a contrary view. What might seem to be simple rudeness can actually be strategic.
Politically powerful
When the Outspoken are politically powerful, some consider them to be demonstrating their power. They don't actually have a point to make, other than that they're in charge. Perhaps. Also possible: the Outspoken feel threatened, weak, and small, and they dominate the meeting to validate their own images of themselves.
Composite Outspoken
The Outspoken might be two or three (or more) individuals, allied with a single purpose. They might plan in advance to express their point of view in a way that deprives others of airtime. But because the Outspoken are multiple people, they don't seem to be dominating the meeting.

In Part II, we'll examine the dynamics of airtime allocation from the perspective of the Softspoken.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Allocating Airtime: II  Next Issue

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See also Effective Meetings and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

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